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November 29, 2016

NaNoWriMo: Good or Bad, Let’s Move Forward — Guest: A.E. Siraki

Arrow carved into picnic table with text: Moving Forward after NaNoWriMo

There’s only one more day until my pending NaNoWriMo loss becomes official. This year was my worst NaNo ever, and my last minute crunch-time attempt to add words was canceled by a Thanksgiving injury.

(As if I haven’t had enough health issues this year, in trying to open a package of food for the big family get-together, I sliced open my finger. No stitches, but it took over an hour to stop bleeding, and my typing is now very s-l-o-w because I can’t use my index finger. *sigh*)

Just because we don’t have a brag-worthy NaNo doesn’t mean that we failed. No matter my final word count, those are still words I didn’t have before. (I don’t consider it possible to “lose” NaNo. *grin*)

Or if we do come up with 50K words, that doesn’t mean we’re happy with our work. We might not like where our story went, or the mess of a plot, or any other of dozens of issues.

Either way, we have to find a way to move forward after NaNo. Whether we’re happy with our results or not, we have A.E. (Anita) Siraki here with us today to share her insights on what comes next.

Please welcome Anita Siraki! *smile*

*****

How to Pick Yourself Up After NaNoWriMo
—or—
I Won NaNoWriMo! Now What?

52,467. That was my magic number. It represents the number of words I wrote as of November 30, 2015 when I decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Most of you reading this know that the goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. This figure determines if you “won” or if you “lost.”

Writing 5,000 words per month is a challenge for many of the writers I know, and yet the thousands upon thousands who participate each year get their 50,000 words done despite Thanksgiving, family, work (or school), and other obligations.

After years of being vehemently opposed to ever participating in NaNoWriMo, things changed for me in fall 2015. I was unemployed, in constant physical pain due to a chronic disease, drowning in depression, and feeling like “What’s the point?”

NanoWriMo could potentially give me a sense of purpose. Part of what made me participate was the chance to remind myself that I still had the ability to write. I had failed at everything else, so I had to “win” and prove I was worth something when it came to writing.

I hit some nasty twists and turns and had to surmount huge walls at least twice during that month, but I slogged through and I made it. I had climbed all the mountains, squeezed all the blood from the stones in my mind, and got the 50,000 words done with 2,000 and change to spare.

Does Winning Equal a Sense of Accomplishment?

I’m sad to say no. I put all my energy into NaNoWriMo. Slaying my demons, including self-doubt, every single day, was grueling.

This writing felt like work. There was no joy in the process of me pulling those words from myself. I felt like I was completing a homework assignment rather than writing for the joy.

Many writing articles will tell you to push yourself to write even if you don’t feel like it. While it’s true that waiting around for the muse to show up is usually not good practice, everyone has a different process and forcing myself to do this each day was jarring.

What Comes Next after NaNoWriMo?

So let’s say you’re close to finishing your 50,000 words or you’re already done. What next?

  • Decide Whether to Finish the Book
    You don’t have to choose right away, but sometimes we need time away from a project before we re-visit it. You can always file this project away and come back to it later.
  • Watch Out for Burnout
    Even if you loved the experience of working on your manuscript and it thrills you, take a week to digest what you’ve written after NaNo ends.
    (Note from Jami: Here are my burnout recovery tips.)
  • Check for Holes
    Jot down plot points you think a book might need, such as a scene here or a description there.

    • Is there any research or some other gaps you need to fill in? Try to address some of those points that came up while you were writing.
  • Analyze Your Habits
    If you don’t already, keep a journal of your weekly progress during NaNoWriMo. Use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to mine data on your writing habits and find out how you work best.

    • Is there a time of day that you’re most productive?
    • Have you been skipping meals? Do you need to get better about snacking?
    • Do you write better with music or silence?
  • Let the Story Sit
    You may feel tempted to rush off your 50,000 words to beta readers, a critique group, or an editor. Let the words percolate for a week or two or however long it takes for you to feel more settled.

    • See if you can spot plot holes or things you think beta readers might pick up on.
    • Make a list of issues to flag for your critique partners and ask them about specific sections that you’re not sure about.
  • If You’re Not Sure the Story Is Salvageable…
    Before you completely abandon ship, sleep on it for a week or two and then show your NaNo manuscript to a critique partner. Ask them if they think there’s enough potential to continue the project. While you are ultimately the one who makes that call, it can be useful to get feedback to help you make a decision.

Before Diving into Revisions and Editing…

Editing a huge swath of words is a daunting task for any writer, whether beginning or advanced. It can be overwhelming if you set yourself the task of editing the entire 50,000 words in December (and remember that with the holidays and all that jazz, you’ll probably only have about two weeks to get any serious work done before everything starts to get out of hand, so do keep that in mind).

Instead of telling yourself that you’re going to finish editing or revising the 50,000 words as soon as possible or getting it in your head to rush that process, formulate a revision and editing plan.

List the major gaps you’ll have to address in the manuscript, e.g. expanding setting or character descriptions in specific parts of the book, or filling in research holes that you know need more work.

A good trick is to keep a notebook (or electronic document) of items as you’re writing in November of things you know you’ll need to address in the future.

This can help to make sure you move forward with your manuscript and don’t get caught up fixing minor things that don’t really matter during this stage and that can be addressed later when you’ve done the heavy lifting of the writing itself.

*****

anita-sirakiA.E. Siraki hails from the Great White North and writes dark and twisted tales. Her work has appeared in Murky DepthsDark Heroes (Pill Hill Press), Ghostlight Magazine, and others. She has written non-fiction for Geeks of DoomHellnotes, and Horror World.

When she doesn’t have her nose in a book or journal, she’s brushing up on her French, extolling the virtues of the Oxford comma, and catching up on her favourite shows from across the pond.

Find A.E. at:
Blog | Twitter | Pinterest

siraki-header-2

*****

Thank you Anita! I’ve definitely had more success with NaNo some years than others, and you’ve done a great job at capturing the variety of complicated emotions we might encounter as we reach the end of the month.

Some years, I’ve felt a great sense of accomplishment…but then promptly fell into burnout territory. Other years, I’ve struggled to feel happy with my words and wondered why I bothered.

There’s no one reaction we might feel, and too many blog posts on the topic take a definitive stance on the “right” way to NaNo which can lead to creating even more complicated emotions on the subject.

No matter our situation, we’re not alone in experiencing our struggle (good or bad) with NaNo. Sometimes knowing that others have experienced similar struggles can help us feel better about what we manage to accomplish despite those obstacles. *smile*

For those of you who have participated in NaNoWriMo before and “won,” did it spur you to keep going or were you exhausted by the end of November? Do you have any tips or suggestions to deal with the post-NaNoWriMo blues? Why did you decide to participate (or not) in 2016? Do you have any questions for Anita?

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11 Comments on "NaNoWriMo: Good or Bad, Let’s Move Forward — Guest: A.E. Siraki"

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Nicole

I’m so glad to know that I’m not alone with my NaNo failure this year. I couldn’t believe that I got behind as much as I did and at some point made the conscious decision to just stop for the month because I felt that I couldn’t possibly catch up.

After some horrible self-pity, (some remnants remain), I noticed on Twitter that someone mentioned that they were going to unofficially continue “NaNo” during the month of December and I came to this “revelation” it’s not just about this one month.

I’ve made the decision to “go-pro” (as Kristen Lamb puts it :)), and that means that EVERYDAY I need to clock in. So, just because November wasn’t my month, doesn’t mean that the “show can’t go on” later. 🙂

This was a great post – thanks for sharing!

Mike

You’re supposed to kill your darlings, not your digits.

Glad you’re okay!

Julie S
Julie S

I did NaNoWriMo three years n a row (2005. 06, 07) and burned out in a huge flaming pyre of despair. Not about what I wrote (I liked the stories and how they were coming out) but it was mentally exhausting! Last year I signed up but was already doing a project and had set my own pace and was afraid of the massive burn out if I pushed myself too hard. This year, I had my own 40,000 word goal in October ro finish a rough draft before November. 99% success on that front.

But I have to admit, keeping up the pace for November is hard. I added about 6,000 words I’d already written, and had to do a few days of 3,000 words to catch up because the pace is relentless. That said, I do enjoy having huge chunks of story written out, and there’s nothing better than that. (Oh and I also “cheated” by working on 1,600 words on another project that I couldn’t get out of my head until I wrote it down).

So, what I’ve learned: it’s good to push yourself to get your butt in chair and freaking WRITE, it’s also a good idea to take a day off here and there and replenish and think about what’s coming next, or world-building, or examining your characters and clarifying things which might have foggy earlier in the process.

Donovan Quesenberry
Donovan Quesenberry

Greetings,
Excellent post, Anita Siraki. This is exactly what I needed because I just finished NaNo yesterday. This was my first NaNo, and I reset my goals for 60K words and a second draft by 1Jan. But that is as far as I got. Now (again, thank you, Anita Siraki) I have a game plan based on your post..
I am jacked!!
Jami, as I said before, you inspired me to NaNo. Appreciate it. I proved to myself that 3K words/day is available. That was a big win for me.
Here in Raleigh the NaNo posse has organized a party for 1 Dec. Free Food! So, another big win. There were support groups all month, too. Another win, because I really enjoyed getting together with the ladies. I think my .45 freaked them out the first meeting or two (gotta carry a .45 -zombies, duh), but after I brought them a couple of plates of chocolate chip cookies, I fit right in.
Life is good.
Stay Well,
Donovan
PS: Better put you back on the prayer list. Jeez. Be careful with the knives. Zombies can smell blood. Just sayin’. 🙂

Christina Hawthorne

Sorry to hear about the injury, Jami. That’s certainly bleeding for your art. Of all the parts of the body to hurt. My right ring finger swelled up during week one and was awkward, but it wasn’t painful and was better in a couple of days. Also that week, I tripped and tore open my right shin, but it didn’t hinder writing, nor did my HP flaring up week 3.

I love the NaNo challenge. This was my third, and my third success. I even become obsessed with all the silly badges. Now, if only the bank would allow me to deposit them.

For me, a key is a fast start week one. It’s the best opportunity to make big numbers because you can best see ahead of time where the story is going. After that, no matter how well I plot, the story is more likely to veer from the expected/planned. Thus, I started with a clear vision of the book beyond the first plot point and the result was crazy big daily numbers, finishing the first week at 33K. I reached 50K on the 12th. After that I slowed considerably and took more time exploring the unexpected, including an ancient library where time is out of sync. Tonight when I update I’ll be around 88K (have to get that 30-days updating badge!).

Donovan Quesenberry
Donovan Quesenberry

Greetings Christina Hawthorne,
Great key about the first week, etc. Will remember that, thanks.
Stay Well,
Donovan

Anne
Anne
Jami and Anita, Excellent post, as always. 🙂 I’ve done NaNo a number of times, and each one was a pantsed novel which was less organized than a plate of cooked spaghetti. I’m still really new to the plotting process, so planning a novel takes me *forever*. I hope, with experience and time, the time it takes will decrease. My past experiences with NaNo were exhausting. One year I was running a fever while hosting Thanksgiving with friends[**], then had to ‘get back to work’ as soon as company was gone. Each year has become more difficult — specifically because I’ve won every year. Will *this* one break my streak? Oh, the pressure. 🙂 [**Note: This was in the early aughts, before I learned how important taking care of one’s health is — which includes not being around people when I’m sick!] I completed the rough draft of my first planned-and-plotted novel, at the end of October, so I skipped NaNo this year, to read about my next steps — how do I prepare to revise? I’ve got a list of books to read. Each one I read makes my fingers itch to page through my novel, with my editor’s hat on… Meanwhile, I’m not so sure it’s *ready* for my editor’s hat. Eek! Jami, I’m sure you’ve got people around you reminding you to keep your finger clean. But, just in case — please, please! keep that wound clean, especially while it’s still open. Ordinarily I’m not a germ… Read more »
Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Sorry to hear of the injury Jami! Do take care of it.

Great guest post, thanks. I haven’t done this stint and I’m not likely to but at times I write from early ’til late for days. well done anyone who took part and got some writing they were happy with at the end. That is what matters!

Sieran
Sieran

Well, I won it early (on approx Nov 21), but I probably have more time than most people here, since I’m still just a grad student, not working yet, and have no children to take care of.

I definitely will finish this story because I adore my characters! But I might go back to editing a story that I still haven’t finished editing first, lol. We’ll see how I feel like. 🙂

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